Ultrafast lasers to hit the big time

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The ultrafast laser market will reach about $260m in 2008 with healthy growth expected in coming years, fed by innovations in technology, new suppliers to the market, and some novel applications and strategies.

Margins are high and the products are almost immune from commoditisation, but the market is overfilled with competitors. These findings are published in a new technology and market report by Strategies Unlimited, Ultrafast Lasers 2008. Ultrafast lasers have pulse durations in the picosecond and femtosecond range, so short that many materials can be cut or drilled with no heat damage. They are like fine-toothed saws in the tool box that can do precise and smooth cutting, while more conventional lasers are like coarse-toothed saws for faster cutting. 

Ultrafast lasers are also well-suited for generating non-linear reactions (such as for wavelength conversion or multi-photon imaging), for observing fast phenomena, and for very stable sources for metrology and instrumentation, according to the report. Coherent and Newport dominate ultrafast laser sales, with their strong product portfolios in titanium-doped sapphire lasers, amplifiers, and associated products. The new growth will mostly come from new designs, however. Both Coherent and Newport have introduced new ultrafast laser products that incorporate a fibre laser or amplifier. Two other laser industry leaders, Trumpf and Rofin-Sinar, entered the ultrafast laser business in the last year. Trumpf uses its thin-disk technology, while Rofin’s Corelase acquisition uses fibre laser technology, the report reveals. There are 33 other companies offering an ultrafast laser product. This is remarkable even for the highly fragmented laser industry, where success comes to companies that find a niche and patiently nurture relationships with customers to bring up new applications, one at a time, according to Strategies Unlimited.